Making the rounds at the Toronto Film Festival
By Bill Meyer (aka Ron Sheldon), People's Weekly World, 4 October 1997
This year there were 279 films from 58 countries shown over 10 days at the Toronto International Film Festival. Quickly becoming one of the most impressive film events in the Western Hemisphere, friendly Toronto offers excitement and entertainment for all kinds of movie lovers.
The aura of excitement was exhibited among the long lines of filmgoers waiting to see the films they carefully chose from the huge catalog of titles.
Some viewers bought books of 10, 20 or 50 tickets, some bought open passes to see as many films as they could jam in during the 10-day period.
My final total was over 46, in addition to symposiums, press conferences and interviews, keeping me busy during the span of the festival.
What's special about this festival, in addition to the large number of films available for the general public to see, is the variety of independent and world films screened.
Any film buff would find enough films of special interest, and for progressive-minded political activists, there is a wealth of offerings with social, political and historical themes.
This year films from the Balkans were featured with several focussing on the recent war in Bosnia. A new breed of cinema is beginning to emerge from the failings of the post-communist regimes.
Bitterness and despair appear in gangster films from the Ukraine, Friend of the Deceased, and Russia, Brother; and from Hungary comes Belated Full Moon loaded with its share of frustration at the "advances" of the new society.
An engrossing British documentary Martin Luther King: Days of Hope, brought new insight into its subject, as did a loving tribute to the great Italian actor, Marcello Mastroianni.
Two films from Cuba were unique events considering the scarcity of cinema emerging from this once prolific land.
One being a delightful documentary of Cuban music called From Son to Salsa, containing a highly infectious music score demonstrating the development of the popular music form called the "son," now re-termed "salsa."
The other was a co-production with France called Vertical Love, a lightweight bedroom (or elevator) farce that takes place amid the turmoil of overcrowded and run-down Havana.
My three favorite films came from established left-wing directors. Men with Guns is the new John Sayles offering, telling the story of a naive Mexican doctor who makes a terrifying trek through the jungles to find some of his medical students he taught earlier in his career.
His discoveries say much about the harsh political and economic hardships facing Mexicans today. The probing social drama, filmed in Spanish with subtitles, follows in the footsteps of Sayles' critically-acclaimed Lone Star.
Anticipation for the follow-up to Roger and Me comes in the form of The Big One, a hilarious and biting satire on corporate greed.
Based on Michael Moore's recent 46-city book tour for his bestseller, Downsize This!, the film shot in only three weeks provided the deepest, most scathing political attacks of all the films at the festival but amazingly served up with a most effective sense of humor. Miramax picked up its distribution at the festival, sealing its likelihood of being well-viewed.
For those of you who remember the classic award-winning Chilean film from the 70s, Battle of Chile, that captured rare footage of the military coup that overthrew the elected Socialist president Salvador Allende, will be excited to see the sequel.
Director, Patricio Guzman, found it in his heart to return to his native country with a film crew to capture scenes and impressions 24 years later.
Chile: An Obstinate Memory, shows a Chile that's gradually forced to come to grips with its brutal past. Touring with the video of Battle of Chile, never before shown in his country, Guzman films his countrymen viewing scenes of the horrible crimes of the coup.
Most younger Chileans were never educated about that part of their history, and it is eye-opening! The emotional response from the people in the movie and in the theater attest to its power of recollection.
Spike Lee presented his new HBO film, Four Little Girls, a poignant documentary detailing the tragedy of the young victims of the racist church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.
What adds to the experience of seeing these four films is the bonus of having Sayles, Moore, Guzman and Lee in the public theater to introduce their film with a QfA following the screening.
Along with Lee's appearance was Christopher McNair, the father of one of the four little girls, bringing to life the early years of the civil rights movement.
With so many personalities available at the festival, the organizers decided a few years ago to add a section called "Dialogues: Talking with Pictures," in which several directors were each asked to introduce one film that made a marked effect on their career.
One of the highlights of this years Dialogues was the film presented by John Sayles. His choice, a 1963 Italian drama called The Organizer, starred a very young Marcello Mastroianni.
The story deals with textile workers in turn-of-the-century Italy, overcome by their oppressive working conditions. Professor Senigallia (Mastroianni) comes in to help organize the workers who had never seen or heard of a strike before and were simply reacting to the inhuman conditions they were forced to work under.
The film is a handbook on the basics of the class struggle, slightly simplistic and naive, but loaded with a warm humanism and a powerful rousing closer. Sayles, in his introduction to the film credits it with inspiring his own labor film, Matewan.
The first South African film by a Black director, Fools, examines the issues of collaboration with the enemy and forgiveness.
A heart-wrenching Quebec documentary, Let Me Go by Anne Claire Poirier, investigates the drug-land killing of the filmmakers daughter.
The Brazilian film Four Days in September, is a suspense- filled reenactment of the kidnapping of the American ambassador in 1969. The personalities and motivations of the revolutionary kidnappers are fleshed out in more depth than usual.
A new deceptively simple, deeply humanist film from Iran, The Mirror, continues the story of the little girl in The White Balloon, a hit from last year. Many new films from England continue the trend of the neo-realist revival.
No Child of Mine displays the horrors of child molestation; Twenty-four Seven tells the tragic story of a homeless man (Bob Hoskins) driven to help hopeless young men find a future by opening a boxing gym.
Nil By Mouth, directed by Gary Oldman, and Face, directed by Antonia Bird and starring the great young Scottish actor, Robert Carlyle, both depict the new gangster mentality of the hopeless out-of-work victims of Thatcherism. Face is fresh in that the hero, "Red Ray" (Carlyle), is a former political activist turned bank robber.
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